Tragic waste of green fields as undeveloped brownfield hits new high, CPRE research reveals

There's plenty of brownfield - let's start using it!

•          New figures show a continued increase in the amount of brownfield land suitable for housing across England •          Despite the boom in brownfield, fresh analysis shows planning permission has stagnated, with long-term trends pointing to soaring use of greenfield sites •          The proportion of brownfield housing units with planning permission is the lowest since records began – down to 44 per cent in 2021 from 53 per cent in 2020 – and the actual number, at 506,000, is the lowest for four years
Housing developers are gorging on precious greenfield land with ever greater appetite despite space being available for 1.3 million new homes in swathes of previously developed sites across the country. The annual State of Brownfield report from CPRE, the countryside charity, shows an increase in land available for redevelopment but a smaller proportion being granted planning permission over the past 12 months. So, in short, greenfield development is on the rise while brownfield development is on the slide. To halt the irreversible and unnecessary destruction of our countryside, CPRE is calling for new national planning policies to prioritise brownfield development in Local Plans as part of a package of fresh levelling-up investments in the Midlands and the North. The analysis of 330 local-authority brownfield registers shows a glut of disused and derelict land available in areas that need the most support. The North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands have space for a total of more than 375,000 homes on previously-used land. There is also plenty in London and the South East, where just over half a million homes could be built without touching green spaces. West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, a vocal proponent of a ‘brownfield first’ planning policy, said: “The priority for housing has to be providing the homes that are much needed while protecting the Green Belt for future generations, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here in the West Midlands. “The simple fact is there is no excuse to destroy the countryside while so much brownfield land is available for housing, which is why in our region we use the cash we’ve won from government to pay to clean up derelict industrial land. “This is vital in the context of protecting our natural environment so it can help in the fight against climate change while levelling up our towns and cities so that they are thriving, attractive places to live and work – with nature on the doorstep to be explored and enjoyed. “As well as championing a ‘brownfield first’ approach to housing, the West Midlands is also leading the way on affordability. Not only do we insist on a minimum of 20 per cent of new homes built being affordable when the Combined Authority’s cash is involved but we have also changed the definition of ‘affordable’ so it is linked to local pay rather than the housing market – helping to make the dream of home ownership far more realistic for many. “I am sure the approach taken here in the West Midlands can be applied across the rest of the country, helping to keep the Green Belt safe whilst building more truly affordable homes.” Focusing development primarily on suitable urban brownfield means that housing is near where people already work and live, with infrastructure such as public transport, schools and shops already in place. A key advantage of this approach is a reduction in car use. CPRE is calling for a ‘brownfield first’ policy that ensures all new developments include affordable housing, including Help to Buy. Emma Bridgewater, president of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “A ‘brownfield first’ policy is sound good sense. We need to direct councils and developers to use these sites – often in town and city centres where housing need is most acute – before any greenfield land can be released. “It is wasteful and immoral to abandon our former industrial heartlands where factories and outdated housing have fallen into disrepair. Developing brownfield is a win-win solution that holds back the tide of new buildings on pristine countryside and aids urban regeneration at a stroke. “It is therefore heartening to hear that the government increasingly appears to share these views. Recent warm words on developing brownfield land first and enabling communities to push back on any plans to build in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Green Belt land are to be applauded. It is a welcome change of direction and we look forward to working with the government to help make this ambition a reality.” New analysis shows the use of previously undeveloped greenfield land soared by 148 per cent between 2006 and 2017, the latest date for which figures are available. The proportion of brownfield land being used for residential development dropped by 38 per cent in the same period. For more on the use of brownfield land, click here